Sunday, December 22, 2013


I had lunch with a dear friend last week. We exchanged gifts and swapped stories about what's new in each of our lives. As we chatted, she said, "I'd like to share with you a tender story." This actually meant she was about to tell me something that would make me cry right into my BLT.

She explained that last week was her office gift exchange, a secret Santa. As staff opened their trinkets, she began to empty the contents of her bag. Much to her chagrin, her bag contained just two things, lottery tickets and an ornament. Even more disappointing was the fact that none of the tickets were winners and the ornament was purple...and covered in rhinestones. Not exactly something she planned to put on her tree.

She held up her ornament for others to see, sharing snickers and glances with her colleagues. There is nothing worse than making a good faith effort to bring a good gift and then end up with the booby prize. As she sat down at her desk, a co-worker approached. "So, what did you get?" as he leaned over her cubicle wall. "A bunch of losing lottery tickets. And this." She held out the ornament, waiting for his reaction.

She watched his face, waiting for him to wrinkle his nose in disdain, just as she had. "Oh, you did!?!?" He exclaimed, unable to mask the pride in his voice. My friend paused, confused by his reaction. "My granddaughter made that. She painted it by hand and glued on all of those rhinestones herself. Isn't it beautiful? She takes so much pride in her work." He went on to explain, "She's 12 and she has autism. In fact, she didn't speak until she was six. When she was little, her mother used to pray that she would one day call her 'Mom' -- now she talks all the time. We are so proud."

My friend sat, dumbfounded and embarrassed. She also has a grandson with autism. And he is six, and does not speak. And suddenly, that little ornament transformed into something magical. The strange purple hue was now vibrant and stunning. The awkward rhinestones were now intricate and hand crafted. What had been her biggest disappoint had suddenly become her biggest lesson.

In an instant, that ornament became a reminder, a reminder that things are not always as they appear. In an instant, that ornament became a symbol, a symbol of hope and potential. And in an instant, that ornament humbled her, humbled her in a way that will forever make her pause before she passes judgment on those around her.

And as I sat, indeed weeping into my sandwich, I couldn't help but think how timely her tender story was. As we sit around the tree this year, full of hope and excitement as we open gifts, I will be mindful of her ornament. I will pause to remember that each gift, each token, is a symbol of love and generosity, no matter how small. Most importantly, I will be grateful for the friends and family in my life, and for the people who constantly shower my daughter with love and support. For I know that those are people who would marvel at her purple paint and gush at her rhinestones.

 May your Christmas this year be full of wonder, and may you find magic in the most unexpected of places.

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